While we’re having the interesting conversation about (largely hypothetical, given our current social context) issues of ‘forced fatherhood’, it’s also worth having a conversation about forced motherhood. Forced motherhood is, sadly, something that happens all the time, often with severe consequences that extend far beyond economic burdens.
The NY Times magazine has a compelling, heartbreaking article looking at recent work on the effects – psychological, social, financial – of denying abortion to women. Prof. Diana Greene Foster has conducted a landmark study seeking to gauge the impact of preventing access to abortion:
Most studies on the effects of abortion compare women who have abortions with those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term. It is like comparing people who are divorced with people who stay married, instead of people who get the divorce they want with the people who don’t. Foster saw this as a fundamental flaw. By choosing the right comparison groups — women who obtain abortions just before the gestational deadline versus women who miss that deadline and are turned away — Foster hoped to paint a more accurate picture. Do the physical, psychological and socioeconomic outcomes for these two groups of women differ? Which is safer for them, abortion or childbirth? Which causes more depression and anxiety? “I tried to measure all the ways in which I thought having a baby might make you worse off,” Foster says, “and the ways in which having a baby might make you better off, and the same with having an abortion.”
As you might expect, the results aren’t pretty.
With the prospect of father’s day ahead over the weekend, Laurie Shrage (left) has a piece for the New York Times confronting the issue of ‘forced fatherhood’, and whether (in limited contexts, namely, those in which women can in fact access contraception and abortion services) women’s reproductive autonomy is unfairly greater than that of men. In an instance in which a woman becomes pregnant without the consent of the male partner to the pregnancy (e.g. due to contraceptive accident), she suggests that we have an unfair case of ‘forced fatherhood’. In such cases, a man is required to undertake the significant (at least) financial responsibilities that he has not voluntarily undertaken.
‘just as court-ordered child support does not make sense when a woman goes to a sperm bank and obtains sperm from a donor who has not agreed to father the resulting child, it does not make sense when a woman is impregnated (accidentally or possibly by her choice) from sex with a partner who has not agreed to father a child with her.’
Policies that require biological fathers to take on such financial responsibilities are punitive, she argues, and can be viewed as a way of controlling sexual behaviour (in the way that inability to access abortion punishes women for being sexually active).
Moreover, rejecting this policy that requires the biological fathers to undertake financial responsibilities could open up ways of conceiving fatherhood that move beyond biological relationship (I like this point: as my two siblings and I write our father’s day cards, only one of us will be celebrating our biological father, but he’s a father no more and no less to each of us!).
This raises many interesting questions about what grounds parental responsibilities, and has -unsurprisingly – generated considerable response from the feminist blogosphere.
Here’s my take on the objections that have come up (after the break):